Author Archive
Legends

Turtle Man in Turtle Bay

The informant is a 2o year old classmate and friend of mine who was excited to share about her camp’s urban legend.
I went to a camp called Lake of the Woods Camp for girls, I was a camper for 8 years, and went for 8 weeks every summer since I was 7.
So its just kind of a camp legend that we’ve always had. theres this story about Turtle man- the legend of turtle man, and theres this place called turtle bay at camp and its part of our lake at camp and its filled with sulfur and so it smells really really bad. So the urban legend goes that there was a counselor who was really mean to all the campers- he worked at Greenwood’s Camp for Boys, and so um the counselor was really mean, just not a nice person- beat the campers, was awful to them. He would smoke cigarettes in the cabin, and he was just so rude to them and he told them if you tell your parents who i am I’m going to kill you all or something like that because he was an ex military person. And he um one day the boys decided to pull a prank of him because they hated him so much- it was fourth of july and they decide to pull a prank on him. This was back when you could receive a bunch of packages and have packages with fireworks and they were just going to blow them up and the counselor found them and he said he would confiscate them. So he put them under his bed. Since it was fourth of july, all the counselors like to get drunk and so he came home that night and he was really drunk and was smoking a cigarette and he fell asleep with the cigarette in his hand and the fireworks went off and the counselor ran into turtle bay and he was never seen again- and the myth is that he comes back every fourth of july to haunt the campers.
I first heard it my first year at camp from older girl campers, and now even though they don’t allow ghost stories everyone still knows about it.
ANALYSIS:
I like this piece specifically because it really shows how strong a piece of folklore can be. As the informant mentioned, the camp banned ghost stories, presumably because the age range of kids in the camp is quite large. Even so, the informant mentioned that everyone knows the story anyways and it will continue to be passed down.
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Henna Celebration

The informant is an Israeli American who grew up practicing traditions from both her Israeli and Persian culture. She describes an Israeli bridal shower and all of her favorite parts of it.

  • Around a wedding time, a few weeks before there kind of all that build up around the bride and groom and the wedding takes a lot of planning and all that, but a couple weeks before many of, um, many different uh… how to do you say it… people from all different backgrounds in Israel, you know the Syrians do it one way, Iraqis do it a different way, but pretty much all of the do a henna, its kind of like a bridal shower, but nothing like insane, you know a lot more colorful, they are usually at night and not during the day, and they usually mix men and women. The bride is you know prepped, she has to get everything done, the harry the makeup, and then older ladies come and giver her different words of advice you know things to do, not to do, how to keep a marriage going. You know, of course there’s a big feast, there’s a big candy table thats set up with all different sweets that you take home. But not like a modern day, more like homemade sweets, you know things that grandma would know how to make. And different people bring different things. And then there is a henna mix that they make, and they put it on their hands, right. They will put like a scoop of it on your palm, and then on your beloved’s palm, and then they squeeze them together to make an imprint, so that you have the dye, the same dye. Your hand is in his, and they will do the same thing with the feet, and it’s kind of to symbolize that from here on they are one and you know that they have to find a way to make it work, and to say that may all their days be as sweet as this candy that they are serving. I would say this tradition is more Sephardic Jews, Persians definitely do it, but I know family friends that are Moroccan, Iraqi, definitely do a big thing with that as well. I don’t know about Ashkenazi Jews so much, but definitely Sephardic.
  • Yeah so this is just he Henna Celebration. You know, and she’s given a lot of jewelry, and the family will present her with jewelry, its kind of, its fun. It’s excessive in a way, in that she’s wearing everything, one on top of the other. The people eat, they drink, they dance. Its very different. You know I remember going to a bridal shower here and thinking: oh this is very, this is very tame. Where are the guys? And you know, I had one here in Los Angeles. Yeah, some people will put a gold coin, into the palm of the bride and grooms hand when they squeeze it to say that, may they have good fortune and be successful, and be able to help others not just provide for themselves. There’s a lot around it. Its very colorful. You can kind of imagine how Indian bridal celebrations are, they have a lot of action, a lot of food, lot of color, lot of flowers, candles. And then all the old people in the family coming forward with all kinds of goodies and words of encouragement and advice. Its different, very different. 

ANALYSIS:

I found it most interesting that the informant mentioned feeling like American bridal showers were tame. I also was pleasantly surprised to find out that she had one of these celebrations of her own here in Los Angeles. I think it is so important that people celebrate and bring their rituals and customs with them wherever they go.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Santa Lucia

The informant is a 19 year old student living in Utah. She has a rich background from Swedish family. I remembered her telling me when I was younger about this celebration and feeling jealous that she had two Christmas’s! She explains the holiday and why she feels it’s been an important part of her childhood.

  • Its called Santa Lucia, but a lot of people call it Saint Lucy, and basically it happens on the 13th of December, and its been celebrated throughout Scandinavia but since were Swedish we do a Swedish version so its a little bit different. So its a Swedish holiday kind of like Christmas but a separate holiday and basically it derives from the Saint Lucia and there was a legend that she would go to the poor early in the morning and she would bring them all gifts and food, and because it was so dark (because it was winter) she would wear a crown with candles on it and she would go and just bring food and presents to the poor in Sweden. So to celebrate that, every 13th of December, the daughter of a family, if they have one, will go and bring gifts to the family or around the neighborhood, and sometimes in schools they would do it too, electing one of the girls in school to be Saint Lucy and she would bring cookies. Actually there is a specific cookie called a Pepperkakoar kind of like a gingerbread cookie that we make and eat on Santa Lucia.
  • So my mom does that for us in the morning on the 13th and gets us all little gifts and makes us the cookies. And there is a special tradition with the cookies too, if you put it in the palm of your hand and you take your other hand and crack the cookie with your knuckle, and if it splits into three pieces then you get a wish, but any other pieces you don’t get a wish. And my mom taught us all how to do that and we would all do it together.
  • I remember one year we didn’t do it, and it was weird that we didn’t do it. Its something that I really love and reminds me of my childhood.

ANALYSIS:

I had never heard of this holiday before the informant, a childhood friend, told me about it. The part I found most interesting is that young women Sweden actually reenact and impersonate the “Saint Lucy”. It seems similar to the way in which other cultures would do the same with Saint Nick, yet I had never really given much thought to why people do this. I think that having people act as the Saint or figure behind legends and stories helps them to feel closer to the tradition and also helps keep it alive!

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Loy Kratong

Loy Kratong is Thai for “Float Lotus-Raft” and has been a Thai tradition for centuries. We celebrate it in the 12th month of the traditional Thai lunar calendar – usually falling sometime in November. The term Loi means ‘to float’ and “Krathong” means a lotus shaped vessel that is made of banana leaves. The Krathong is decorated with flowers, candles and incense sticks and we can also put some coins in it. It’s The festival traces its origin to the Hindu festival of Dipawali which is celebrated in India. Originally, it was celebrated as a thanksgiving ceremony to River Ganges, however, the Buddhists of Thailand adapted the festival to honour the Lord Buddha. The candle raft (Krathong) is floated on the top of any water body as a mark of respect to the Buddha. It’s important because when we push it out it carries with it all the sins, grievances and angst of the person floating it, thereby offering an opportunity to get rid of the old bullshit and begin a new life in a much better manner. Some cut their fingernails and hair and put it in the raft as a symbol of breaking away with all negative aspects of oneself. I bite my fingernails so it’s tough for me. Hair = no worries.
The floating of the raft is also a way to give respect and thanks to the Goddess of water, Phra Mae Khongkha. It is also supposed to bring good luck.
When I got to Thailand in 1987 it was one of the first Thai festivals I saw from the boat I was on. Anchored in Surin Beach it was amazing to sit and watch all night as thousands of people floated their Kratongs out into the ocean with candles. Beautiful sight. Big mess on the beach in the morning but the Thai’s now use Banana cross-sections to float rather than Polystyrene floats – for environmental reasons. Which is much better.  ​
​I love it because we can get rid of all our old ‘bad luck’ or relationships or resentments and start fresh again to live the way we ‘should’.
I learned about this From all my Thai friends when I started working in Thailand in 87.
I used to scoff at it a bit in the early days thinking ‘these guys are soft in the head’ to believe this nonsense but over the years life wears you down and you realize that there are so many things in this universe that remain unseen and unexplained and I can’t ever grasp them all – so why is this nonsense? Maybe it’s true – whatever it is – 60 million people believe in it – so there’s some sort of congregation of the entire nation’s universal subconscious mind on that night and maybe that’s what gives it so much power to the Thai’s themselves. They care not what anyone thinks – they believe it and all do it (almost religiously) – I mean it’s almost unheard of ‘not’ to float your own ‘kratong’ because you may bring bad luck to yourself this way. I remember one year I didn’t have one to float by late afternoon and everyone at work got into a fluff over it and tools were down until ‘the boss’ had his Kratong to float. All the hostesses got together and made me a huge one that was so exquisitely decorated and it was about a metre around. ​
Did you teach your kids the song about it?
Yes – because it’s one of the great Thai children’s songs and everyone sings it on Loy Kratong day and night and it’s a perfect song for young children to learn to be part of Thai culture.
Because they were all born in Thailand and although they’re not Thai by DNA they are Thai by upbringing and should know all about the culture of their birth. ​
ANALYSIS:
I enjoy that the informant was able to learn and become personally connected with a piece of folklore that belonged to a culture and country that he integrated himself into as a young adult.
Game
general

Turkey Wishbone

The informant is a 21 year old male, studying in New York. He recounts his memories of a game he used to play with his family.

me: can you tell me a little bit about this tradition?

When we were little and we used to have turkey, when we would get to the wishbone and we would take the wishbone and dry it in the oven… dry it in the oven to dry it out… and then two people would take each end of the wishbone and pull in opposite directions and it would break, oh and the wishbone is shaped like a Y, I’m pretty sure its the sternum, and whomever umm got the bigger piece would get to make a wish, like when it’s broken, the bottom of the Y would end up only on one side and so one person would get that and the other person wouldn’t.

me: do you have a specific memory of doing this?

not a specific memory, but we used to always make rotisserie turkey, like it used to be a family thing, we made the marinade and made the turkey and everyone helped with something. It was something that we did pretty often. When I think about it I remember how much fun we used to have seeing who would get the wishbone in their food and then all the suspense while it was drying, and then the person who got the wishbone would get to picj who they wanted to pull on the other side, and that was always really hard because I have a ton of siblings and also my parents really loved to play too. And early on it was fun because with any superstition like that, you want to be the one who gets to make the wish and later on it was fun because of the tradition.

ANALYSIS:

Having participated in this tradition myself, I feel very connected to this piece. It is very common for everyone but especially kids to look for any and all ways to make wishes, ie eyelashes, shooting stars, specific times on the clock. This wish holding belief is especially fun in that it requires suspense and a bit of a game!

Customs
Musical

Amici

 

  • Since joining Phi Kappa Psi in the fall of 2015, we sing this song every Monday night before we begin eating. We all stand up and form a big circle linking linking our shoulders, kind of like a big huddle that you would see at a football game or something. We do a little sway back and forth as we sing and then once we are done we can eat. This song is important to me because it signifies the long lasting friendships that I have formed in the fraternity. Singing this song makes me really feel like I am part of something bigger, because people in different Phi Psi chapters are singing it all over the country, and have been for years. I first had to  learn the song before I became an active member of the house. One of our house mottos is “continuing our friendships until death”, which is emphasized in the lyrics “Amici, usque ad aras” which means “Friendship ongoing until death”. I think it’s very interesting that if I were to meet other Phi Kappa Psi brothers from different schools, they know all the same stuff that has been passed down and we immediately share a bond. Knowing how strong my bond is with my friends that I have made here is truly inspiring and the elements of loyalty expressed in a song that we sing together weekly, lead me to believe that I really will be close with my brothers for the rest of my life. 
  • Lyrics to Amici
    (“Friendship”)
    Our strong band can ne’er be broken
    Formed in ole Phi Psi
    Far surpassing wealth unspoken
    Sealed by friendship’s tieChorus:
    Amici, usque ad aras
    (“Friendship, ongoing until death”)
    Deep graven on each heart
    Shall be found unwav’ring true
    When we from life shall partCollege life at best is passing
    Gliding swiftly by — Then
    Let us pledge in word and action
    Love for old Phi Psi
  • For more information see video of Brothers from California Gamma, California Beta and California Iota join one another to sing Amici.
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWxWXQl16vo

ANALYSIS:

Being a part of a the greek community myself, i share the feeling of belonging and community that comes along with learning a song that is special to your chapter yet has been passed down within the house for many many years.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bulgarian Name Day

The informant is a 20 year old male who moved from Bulgaria to Chicago as a child. He tells me about a name day tradition that he continues to celebrate even living in the US, and how he feels it’s an important part of his culture and life.
Name day is a celebration for your name and is celebrated just like a birthday. Mine is January 7th because it correlated with my name. Name days comes from the Orthodox Christian religion and its saints. The Orthodox calendar is full of days devoted to different saints. In the past, when Christianity was establishing itself as a main religion in Bulgaria, people began giving their children the same names as the saints from this calendar. People believed that the child named after a certain saint will be looked after and blessed by him/her. Over time, people started celebrating the day kind of like a birthday!I learned about it through my family and it has been a tradition to celebrate it every year, even though we have stopped following many other traditions since we moved from Bulgaria to the US. My family celebrates it by giving decently small gifts or money to the person who’s name were celebrating, and in return the person either buys cake or prepares dinner. Other families go out to restaurants or bars but my family prefers to keep it intimate. Not every name has a date for celebration, only certain common slavic names like mine; Ivan. Celebrating means a lot to my family and we continue to do it every year because it makes us proud to follow traditions from the country were from (Bulgaria).
ANALYSIS:
The informant spoke about these name days as if it were a second birthday. He explained that as a kid he would look forward to it just as much as he would his actual birthday and received gifts and attention all the same. I found this piece interesting because I have really never heard of people having a special day like this each year besides a birthday. It is very common for people to celebrate different days and occasions of coming of age, but this seems to be considered just as important as a birthday each year. I also think that having a whole day dedicated to you because of your name might offer an extra sense of pride and connection for people to their names.
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Sedar

The informant is Rabbi, working at a temple based in Los Angeles. She explains her religious journey and how meeting her husband and learning his own practices made an impact both on her life and religious beliefs and traditions.

  • So my husband is Sephardic, and so we have this whole ritual around the New Year that has all of these symbolic foods, and is something that without the ceremony is kind of, our Jewish New Year wouldn’t really have the same feeling to it.
  • So, I grew up in a pretty reform family in Cincinnati Ohio, and we were observant but not really I wouldn’t say very ritually bound; we didn’t keep kosher, we didn’t observe a lot o the Jewish commandments, but one thing that was really important to my family was Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. So I was always really into Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Purim and all of that stuff. And when I was a young adult living in Israel, and I started seeing the man who has become my husband, he comes from a Sephardic background. So something that was so interesting was that I had been celebrating holidays in a certain pretty much my, my whole life and never really considered that there were different way of embracing Judaism because in Cincinnati we were just really not so exposed to other types of Judaism. So when I met my husband, actually the first time that I spent time with his family was on the Jewish New Year, on the first night of Rosh Hashanah and before we had our big New Years meal, there was a ceremony and symbolic foods that were set up all around the table and um I had never heard of it before, I had never experienced it before, so I was full of a lot of questions. Basically what I learned about the whole Sephardic tradition of having a Sedar for Rosh Hashanah is that they are very into the symbolic nature of food. So you have the saying ‘you are what you eat’ um and in the Jewish sense, the symbolic foods, you ingest the types of blessings and the types of direction you want your New Year to take. So some of the items that would be eaten traditionally would be carrots… like a, a carrot and the blessing over it would be that God should ordain for us a good judgment in the year to come, and you eat the carrot and the word is Gevurah or geburah (גבורה) which is the same word as judgment, so its like you’re ingesting a good judgment. There is the apples dipped in honey and thats so that you have a sweet and a happy New Year. You eat pomegranates and the blessing for that is that you should be as multitudinous in your acts of kindness and mitzvoth as many as there are seeds in the pomegranate. One of the weirdest blessings that kind of… that took me a while to wrap my head around literally is that there is a… a hope that we should be at the head of the year and not at the tail, so there is a goats head *laughs* that is a part of the Sedar, and in my husbands family they took that really really literally and at the time, I was a vegetarian *laughs again* so on the table was this like… you know this like overcooked goats head and they served the tongue and my hebrew was not very good at the time and my husband, well he wasn’t my husband at the time, said well you know its just a little muscle and you have to eat it so that the blessing is that we will be at the head of the year and not at the tail… and that was kind of my first experience with the Sephardic Sedar and I think that as I continued to grow in my own Jewish practice and really kind of learn more about the non Ashkenazic but Sephardic traditions I find them to be umm… much more ritualistic and much more superstitious and much more concerned with having your house in a certain order and having certain foods that show that your intentions for this Jewish rituals are really of a very evolved kind of commitment. And the Sedar around Rosh Hashanah, every time that we have it now, we  have different blessings that we’ve folded in and my boys, they certainly know all the traditional ones, but every once in awhile we’ll come up with some new blessings like uhh… last year my kids added celery with raisins so that everyone who ate it would have a ‘raise-in’ their salary and that was something that they thought was really cute, and it actually went over pretty well. But when put around the table with apples and honey, and pomegranates, and we don’t do a lambs head because that’s where I draw the line, we do a fish head, and I’m, I’m, okay with that, it’s a little bit of a you know a shift in the tradition, but knowing that his parents still have the goats head on the table, I’m good just knowing that someone out there has a goats head on their table and they are perhaps thinking about us. Its pretty umm, for me, especially as I grow older and as my kids grow older, its a really nice tradition, so I think that for them, knowing that we’re doing it, that their grandparents did it and are doing it, that their aunts and uncles are doing it, that so many other people in the world are putting this good energy into the world for a New Year thats full of blessings and full of all good things, makes them feel really connected and really proud of their Jewish practice.
  • Yeah and I started keeping kosher when I was in graduate school, actually when I was living in India umm and so for me it was kind of more my own personal and Jewish evolution. I think that when I knew that I was going to become a Rabbi, I kind of wanted to have more experience with Judaism but it was so meaningful for me that a lot of it stuck. So fortunately my family has been lovely and embracing and enthusiastic about the way we live our lives and they’re pretty committed Jews themselves so yeah it works out pretty nicely. 

ANALYSIS:

Occasionally when people are married, they adopt their loved one’s religion, traditions, beliefs or customs. I found this piece particularly interesting because upon becoming closer to her significant other, the informant was able to learn and expand on her knowledge of her own religion. I also found it intriguing that they were able to take his customs and transform them within their family to create their own new traditions.

Customs
Initiations

Dartmouth Night

The informant is a 20 year old student who is currently studying at Dartmouth. He recounts his experience with this initiation tradition and how it made him already feel a part of something.

  • So during homecoming weekend at Dartmouth, there is a Dartmouth tradition that tons of alumni come back to campus and are welcomed back into the frats- and each class builds its own bonfire structure, so my class, being a freshman would be 19, and the number of the year you graduate is placed on the top of the structure ( the structure is made out of wood and it is 50 feet high) I didn’t personally participate in making it but my class did. Then on the night of the bonfire, the entire freshman class starts at one dorm and moves through the campus picking up other freshman from each dorm building and eventually making their way to the green, which is where the bonfire getting ready to be lit. Then the freshman are welcomed into an inner circle around which all the other classes and alumni are standing and chanting. The bonfire is lit by select freshman, those who built it, and the freshman class begins to run around the bonfire the number of laps of their graduating year- meanwhile, all the surrounding upper-classmen heckle the freshman to run across the inner circle and touch the fire (which is completely guarded by Hanover police and security because its technically considered trespassing). Eventually, someone finally breaks free of the lap running and tries to touch the fire instigating others to do the same. Literally the police tackle people. This has been a tradition for a really long time, President William Jewett Tucker introduced the ceremony of Dartmouth Night in 1895
  • me: so what is the significance of touching the fire?
  • If you are caught then you are brought to the police station and the understanding is that an alumni will bail you out of jail, but if you’re not caught, you are seen as a legend from your fellow classmates and the older kids.
  • I first heard about this tradition from a sophomore, who touched the fire himself, and was clearly still prideful of that, it was within the first couple of weeks of school.
  • I actually did an interview about this in the school paper, but touching the fire for me provided the best welcome possible into dartmouth and solidified the fact that this is a good place for me.

ANALYSIS:

I think that initiations can be really important for anyone in-group. In my opinion they immediately create a sense of community and a feeling of belonging which is so important for a group to stay strong and connected.

general

Danish Viking Reenactment

The informant is a fellow peer, who has ancestors from Denmark that were Vikings and who’s grandfather participated in a reenactment in 1949.

So my grandfather, Palle Gregard, was chosen to be a part of a viking reenactment in 1949. The Vikings were chosen by the queen of Denmark for the journey to reenact the viking trip from Copenhagen to London England. The best athletes and rowers in the country were chosen and it was a big deal at the time. The guys became instant celebrities . I believe the trip it took two weeks, and they landed at Broadstairs, England in July of 1949. The boat was an authentic replica of a Viking ship, built with no nails. And when they landed at Broadstairs, thousands of people were waiting to greet them cheering, and tons of newspaper articles were written about the landing there like in The Daily Graphic and Chicago Tribune.

My mom has snippets of these news articles and a pamphlet of the journey and a bunch of pictures of the ship and the Vikings and one of my grandfather. I remember visiting the Vikingeskibs Museet (Viking Museum) in Denmark about a year and a half ago, when I was traveling with my family. I was able to see the actual ship that my grandfather sailed in. Being at the museum and seeing and learning about the vikings and Denmark’s past made me feel very connected to grandfather, and I felt as though what I was learning in the museum was my past as well.

If I had the chance, I think I would participate in a reenactment like this one. Below are newspaper clippings from reports on the voyage, and photos of of my grandfather on the ship. I really love having this physical evidence of my ancestry and am very prideful of it.

\Daily Graphic Article 1949Viking Ship Palle Gregard

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